Winnetka, Community

‘Bet on Yourself’: 2024 grads hear inspirational messages, celebrate special moment during local commencements

As the school year comes to a close, commencement ceremonies marked a special milestone for hundreds of local students.

Over the past few weeks, several local high schools celebrated the class of 2024 in recent events.

This year’s graduates were welcomed to high school in the fall of 2020 amid the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. For many, their first day of high school was remote, and much of their early lessons were learned through a computer screen.

Four years later and through a sea of change, those students crossed the stage ready to embark on their next adventures.

New Trier High School

New Trier graduates raise diplomas in the air following the ceremony. | Photo by Megan Floyd

New Trier High School celebrated the 951-person class of 2024 on Sunday, June 2, at the NOW! Arena in Hoffman Estates.

Principal and Assistant Superintendent Denise Dubravec welcomed the graduates and their families and used her speech to emphasize the importance of the community the 2024 graduates have built at NTHS.

“Many of you have grown up here, and even those of you newer to the community have grown to understand how special of a place it is,” Dubravec said. “It is not just a place, it’s not just a cliche notion; it is a feeling, a collection of moments and connections that will stay with you no matter where you go.”

Superintendent Dr. Paul Sally — in one of his final commencements, as he will retire at the end of this school year — bid farewell to the Class of 2024.

He continued his annual tradition of recognizing the generations of New Trier students, identifying one graduate who is a fifth-generation Trevian.

Dr. Chad Bernstein, a 2002 graduate, was the alumni speaker and is the founder of Guitars Over Guns, a nonprofit organization aimed at bringing music to underprivileged communities across America. 

“Bet on yourself,” Bernstein told the graduates. “Success will grow your ego, but failure is what will grow your value. So don’t wait until you feel ready, don’t overthink it, and don’t be afraid to fail.”

Graduates Clodagh Stack and Neve Cavalier smile before making their way to their seats | Photo by Megan Floyd

Senior class commencement speaker Keira Damon echoed Bernstein’s sentiment.

“New Trier invites imperfections, breeds believers and celebrates success more than anyone else,” said Damon, who also spoke the everlasting nature of the New Trier community.

“Whether girls field hockey makes it to state for what feels like the millionth time, ‘Footloose’ has its opening show or a club is completely selling out of their baked goods outside the cafeteria, we show up,” she said.

Every year seniors work on a collective service project, and this year marks their first year partnering with Embarc Chicago, a program aimed at providing experiential learning to schools in Chicago. Olivia McGrath and Logan Dubansky, student members of the advisor chair council, presented Embarc with a check for $70,576, a donation collected through several activities, including the Winter Carnival, throughout the year.

Loyola Academy

Loyola Academy graduates fill Welsh-Ryan Arena on May 25. | Photo by Steve Donish

More than 470 Ramblers crossed the stage May 25 at Loyola Academy’s commencement in Northwestern University’s Welsh-Ryan Arena.

“Be excited that you are not complete, that you have unanswered questions,” Principal Tim Devine said during his opening address. “… There’s so much more for you to learn, so much more for you to do, and so much more for you to become. You have many unwritten chapters, and how you choose to write those chapters will, to a large extent, control your destiny.”

The valedictorian for Loyola’s class of 2024 is Zeb O’Hara. In her speech, the Roger’s Park resident shared her story of going from being homeschooled to fitting in at the Jesuit institution.

She reflected on how Loyola has prepared her and her classmates for their next steps, ensuring that they “be women and men for others”.

“My four years here have guided not only my career goals but also my values. Loyola has taken all of our different backgrounds and formed us for the world — it’s up to us what we do next,” O’Hara told the audience. “There is something of a spectrum between the careers that earn the greatest profits and the careers that do the most good. Loyola has done its very best as to allow us to find a point on that spectrum that we can live with.”

Following the speech, Devine began with the awards portion of the ceremony. The annual Graduate at Graduation award is given to two seniors who exemplify the traditions and values of Loyola Academy. Esther Debrah and Harrison Kriston were awarded the honor. 

Harrison Kriston smiles with his diploma and Graduate at Graduation award. | Photo by Steve Donish

U.S. Navy Veteran and Loyola Academy President Rev. Gregory J. Ostdiek bestowed the first ever Loyola Academy St. Michael’s Medal. St. Michael is the patron saint of soldiers, and the medal honors graduates “entering college who are also on a pathway to be in service to our country, as well as future graduates that may be on the same trajectory,” according to Devine. Ethan Fernando, Brendan Dombrowski, Kyle Baltazar and Devion Johnson marked the inaugural recipients. 

The 2024 Educator of the Year Award was given to Tyler Vrandenburg. He was recognized for his work as the chair of the school’s counseling department.

Highland Park High School

Highland Park High School held its 2024 commencement on May 22 at Ravinia Festival.

In an emotional speech, Highland Park High School Principal Deby Finn reflected on the past four years in her final speech to HPHS grads. The principal will retire following this school year.

“I have been inspired by you for four years,” she told the graduates. “You chose to excavate joy from the soil of high school in your own individual ways. You chose to live a Giant life.”

Highland Park High School Principal Deby Finn smiled while speaking to the grads. | Photo by Ahmad Gibson

Student speaker Chazzie Grosshandler used her time on stage to share inspiration with her classmates. 

“From this moment on, the time is yours. Wherever you go next, whatever you do next, you are the one making a difference in this world,” said Grosshandler. “Giants, let’s continue to be that light and illuminate the world.”

Commencement speaker Chazzie Grosshandler looks out at fellow graduates during her speech. | Photo by Ahmad Gibson

The HPHS annual Medal of Honor, an award given to a well-rounded, passionate senior, was awarded to Doug Anderson. The school also honored nine valedictorians and salutatorians. Additionally, the class gift of new outdoor seating was unveiled.

Regina Dominican High School

Regina Dominican High School graduates toss caps into the air following their May 23 commencement. | Photo from Regina Dominican

Regina Dominican High School hosted its graduation ceremony on May 23 at the school in Wilmette.

According to a press release from the school, the 51 members of the graduating class were accepted to 146 colleges and universities and awarded a total of $17.8 million in offered scholarships. 

The alumni speaker, Bridget Mickus Baumstark, was a member of the class of 1978. The managing director of Willis Towers Watson, she credited Regina to many of her successes. 

“These experiences, and so many more, have contributed to me being the faith-filled wife and mother, business leader, friend and citizen that I aspire to be today,” she said. “And I believe that I was able to have all of these experiences only because I attended Regina Dominican.”

Graduate Delaney Kevin is headed to San Diego State University, but the student speaker took to the stage to cherish the time she had with her peers and look to their future. 

“After this, we will all go off to our corners of the world waiting for the future to come, and when we do, I can only hope that you can think back to high school, and remember that to wait, is to live,” Kevin said. “Continue to learn and to be the confident young women I know you are. Appreciate what you have now, because time really does fly.”

Commencement speaker Delaney Kevin addresses her peers. | Photo from Regina Dominican

Two graduates, Ella Grillo and Lily Grillo, were named Evans Scholars, and they were granted full tuition and housing scholarships for their work as golf caddies. Cassidy Bri’Anna Morris was the recipient of the QuestBridge Scholarship, a scholarship that connects high-achieving students from low-income backgrounds with opportunities to help them succeed.

(Editor’s Note: North Shore Country Day will honor their class of 2024 graduates on Friday, June 7.)

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